Thursday, October 27, 2016

Savoring the Red Bush

Review: Davidson's Rooibos Tea


I learned to love the fruit-laden aroma and creme-soda flavor of South African rooibos tea when I lived for three years in the country. On returning to the US in the late 1970s, I resigned myself to life devoid of this herbal tisane (tea, to all but the purists).

Rooibos tea contains no caffeine, and much lower tannic fractions than Chinese tea. The problem is that unlike "real" Camellia sinensis tea, the Aspalathus linearis plant apparently requires a specific soil and climate ecosystem found only in South Africa's fynbos region in order to thrive.

Cuttings from Oriental tea plants transplanted well to plantations in Indonesia and India, equatorial Africa and the New World tropics. The red bushes of rooibos tea, on the other hand, fail to thrive when planted where the Cape-native soil bacteria and mycorrhizae do not exist. So when apartheid, and the reason for the boycott against South African product exports, finally ended, one of the first things I searched for in US markets was rooibos tea.

Several brands had appeared by the middle 90s, under corporate labels like Twinings and Celestial Seasonings. I had purchased these, and also a South African brand from an import store, in my attempts to recreate that wonderful flavor in my cup. Alas, only the expensive 'native' brand was true to my memory. The 'international' brands sometimes added spices (unnecessary to appeal to my palate) or blended rooibos with other herbs—even Camellia sinensis leaves—to bring down the price point. 

When I saw this tea advertised in Amazon's Prime Pantry, I thought it was time to try again. Hurrah! Here it is, the sublime taste I recall from morning breakfast in Johannesburg. These tea bags are a little over $1 apiece, each yielding a full "company teapot" of 5-8 cups, depending on the size of the service. For my generic porcelain mug from Safeway, I pour 6 full cups.

Served alongside wheat toast spread with honey, or Milton's crackers with fresh mozzarella and a tiny spoonful of black lumpfish caviar, it makes an elegant late supper on a cold winter evening. So civilized!

And with no caffeine, I can indulge right before bedtime.